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Car Talk

By Jack Biddle

It’s About Time for a Look Back in Time

I was recently asked, in general conversation, why the motoring columns in many of our most popular publications, seem to be dedicated to either the electrification of the fleet in some form or another or reviews of the latest expensive and top end performance vehicles these days. In this person’s opinion, the motoring journos seem to be obsessed and competing for headlines about the latest in technology and predicting what the future may look like and forgetting about the past.

He used to enjoy sitting down to read about the industry in general and that included an occasional look back in history and reading stories about the lengths some enthusiasts go to in restoring some of the old classics. “The restoration business is huge globally, so there can’t possibly be a shortage of vehicles and stories to be told and written about in New Zealand” he went on to say.

Well he was right, and his comments left me a little red faced I have to admit, as I am as guilty as some of my far more distinguished and high profile colleagues when it comes to recent subject matter.

So off in search I went for a timeless classic to write about and feature in the monthly motoring column of the Informer. I didn’t have to look far either as tucked up in a garage in Whitianga was a immaculately restored British classic, a 1981 2-door Range Rover owned by a gentleman who prefers to fly under the radar and who, we will simply call John.

The history of the Range Rover is fascinating; it took almost 20 years to develop and bring to market and it then went on to last for another 26 years in production. Holding it back initially was the popularity of the go-anywhere and do-anything Land Rover and also the sale of the Rover Company to British Leyland in 1967. When the Range Rover project was finally given the green light it was officially launched in June 1970. It was promoted to fill a gap in the market and appeal to those buyers looking for a vehicle with similar off-road capabilities as the Land Rover but with a lot more passenger comfort and versatility along with an elegant design which would appeal to a much wider audience including families.

It was to become an overnight success and while becoming a hit with owners who enjoyed a daily drive in comfort on the hard seal, the vehicle proved its off-road capabilities by becoming the very first winner (vehicle category) of the famous Paris – Dakar Rally in 1979 and repeating the feat again in 1981. In fact, over a ten year period, a Range Rover never finished outside the top 10 overall placings which highlights its longevity and durability over the harshest of conditions. At the same time, almost the same vehicle would be used to take families out into the country for a picnic in style.

The car was to pick up many global awards for its innovation and practicality during those early years.

The aluminum skinned Range Rover was launched with a number of firsts and benefits for the average motorist. The high seating position and comfortable seats were almost a viewing platform for the driver and passengers, aided by large side windows while a split rear hatch and a folding rear seat made the vehicle extremely practical and user friendly for owners with various and very different needs. The 3.5 litre aluminum V8 engine also meant the Range Rover never lacked for power while the permanent 4-Wheel Drive system meant a play in the mud was possible for the amateur adventurers without getting into too much trouble. The interior was designed to be hosed out if needed and buyers even accepted a very basic hard plastic dash board and rubber mats as part of its unique character for many years during production as well as a 4-speed manual gearbox as being the only driveline option.

When it comes to restoration standards Johns Range Rover has been given the “works”.

“The restoration took over a year to complete by the previous owner who was extremely fastidious in everything he did and never compromised when it came to producing a quality and genuine finish. Every single small detail of the entire vehicle received some form of attention during the restoration work with many parts imported from renowned suppliers specialising in genuine Range Rover parts in the UK” says John.

Highlights of the restoration include; chassis sand blasted and full epoxy coating applied, new wiring loom, forward roof pillars strengthened, new quarter light frames and rubbers, all body panels stripped back to metal and repaired, new heavy duty clutch, full suspension rebuild, new brake booster and front brake callipers. The interior upgrades include new vinyl panelling, and a rebuild of the front seats. The engine while not original has undergone a major rebuild with most moving parts being replaced. The original engine was also fully rebuilt, dry stored and included in the sale to John. The exterior has even been repainted in its original colour called Bahama Gold.

Johns Range Rover is a fantastic example of a fully restored British Classic motor vehicle. Like many models in the British Leyland stable, the Range Rover was innovative, class leading and set a benchmark for others to reach and ultimately improve on.

John has no plans to let the vehicle grow old gracefully sitting in the garage either. He has plans to recreate his recent length of NZ charity cycle ride, this time in armchair comfort behind the wheel of his beloved Range Rover.

It’s certainly hard to imagine a current mainstream electrified vehicle being called a timeless classic in forty years’ time.

And cheers for the reminder to dedicate a few words to the nations motoring past a little more often.


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